Another mayoral primary in Bridgeport, another mail-in ballot scandal. Another election with an abnormally high number of absentee ballots. Another election where the scandal-prone mayor of Connecticut largest, worst-run city lost the machine vote on election day, yet pulled off a victory once the absentee ballots were counted.
I’d argue that the bigger scandal was not the possibly fraudulent primary, but the fact that this wasn’t surprising when everyone woke up the next morning. Everyone knew that John Gomes, the challenger candidate, had to win big on the in-person vote if he were to have any chance to prevail. The same dynamic played out four years ago, when Marilyn Moore “lost” the primary in a similar fashion.
Yet here we are.
The malfeasance during the 2019 primary was blatant enough to provoke three criminal referrals by the State Election Enforcement Commission (SEEC) of Ganim staffers. This was such a well-known, long-anticipated problem that the Connecticut legislature included a specific line item in the state budget to hire a Bridgeport election monitor, even though none was present (or even assigned) to Bridgeport on primary day. Meanwhile, no action has been taken since the June criminal referrals either, even though one of the people singled out by SEEC, Wanda Geter-Pataky, is the woman seen on tape dropping off stacks of ballots at the center of the current scandal.
It is pretty incredible that I have to write this in a Connecticut newspaper, but elections are important. They need to reflect the will of the voters. Our state must ensure that they are fair, clean, and reliable. This will only happen if we take institutions and laws seriously, both passing much needed legislation to prevent any kind of irregularities, and enforcing and implementing the laws we already have on the books if there is any foul play.
First, it is just absurd that Bridgeport did not have any kind of outside election supervision of this election cycle. I care little about the budget disputes and red tape that left the primary unattended, but someone needs to be in Bridgeport next time people vote. Second, and no less important, state authorities must take the most recent allegations seriously and take proactive steps to investigate any fraud. Hearst reporters unearthed dozens of questionable votes in the 2019 election, but the state dragged its feet on reviewing or addressing any of them until well past the general election. It makes zero sense that we only saw criminal referrals for that case four years after the primaries. It makes even less sense that some of the same folks involved then reappeared dropping envelopes in ballot boxes this election cycle.
Besides addressing these immediate concerns, Connecticut must take action to improve our electoral system. Voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in our state. If the Bridgeport allegations are true, however, it is clear that under current rules bad actors, if left unchecked, can and will try to tamper with the electoral process. There needs to be clear, intentional regulations to ensure there is either non-partisan or bipartisan oversight during recounts.
Third, legislators should also take steps to build stricter firewalls between public employees and election campaigns. The CT Mirror has reported that months before the election, several individuals working for the city requested and obtained personal information of rental assistance recipients. These same individuals also moonlighted as volunteers or staff for the Ganim campaign, a potential opening for abuse that must be viewed more stringently.
Fourth, Connecticut must fix its shambolic, antiquated, and cumbersome absentee voting system. At the core of the Bridgeport fraud allegations is the back and forth of forms, envelopes, ballot requests, and paperwork required to vote by mail. The whole system is complicated enough to dissuade plenty of voters, while at the same time leaving the door wide open for bad actors to sway or push voters around to get them to support a candidate, knowingly or unknowingly. Several states have figured out that the best way to prevent these kinds of shenanigans is letting everyone vote by mail by default, no questions asked. This has the added benefit of significantly increasing participation rates in elections.
There is plenty to be done to improve our election system. Considering the constant attacks by Republicans questioning the legitimacy of the last presidential election, state leaders should do their absolute best to secure our elections and prevent any potential irregularity or allegation of fraud. Voters in Bridgeport deserve better than to be represented and governed by a Mayor and elected officials under a constant cloud of suspicion.